pedal power! i think i can...
Story by Anne Erickson
It’s inevitable. At some point on your Vance Creek Railriders adventure, you’ll start saying to yourself ‘I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…’. Or singing a few bars of ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” to the beat of your knees pumping the pedals. “There’s that clicking, it really does give you that rhythmic feeling” says Cynthia Newman, who owns and operates Vance Creek Railriders with her husband Doug. On this 13-mile railroad ride that winds through Shelton’s farmlands and forests, you are The Little Engine that Could.
My just-turned-21-year old daughter Rose declared “I wanna go,” when I told her I was going to pedal these rails, which is a pretty good indication that this is an adventure with universal appeal. The families with kids, middle-aged couples and college friends on break who showed up for our scheduled 9 am ride further proved that point.
Ponds, a beaver dam, bridges, and real-life railroad crossings where YOU’RE THE TRAIN fly by. The ride rolls on past backyard goats and fields of horses, and an awesome accumulation of very vintage Ford pickups on somebody’s property.
The cars, or railriders, are four-seat recumbent rail bikes with handbrakes, water-bottle holders and adjustable seats. We picked ours for its name: Douglas Fir. It took everything I had not to shout ‘Alllll Aboard!’ as my fellow riders settled in and buckled up. As we started rolling down a gentle slope covered with daisies and foxglove, and slowly picked up speed, my daughter declared, “I really want a horn to blow.”
The rails are part of an old track built by the Simpson Logging Company, so you’re pedaling through some of Northwest logging history on this ride. Trains moved logs along these rails to the mills in nearby Shelton, and this system was the last privately-owned logging railroad in the continental US.
The railriders are not connected, so once underway, everyone spreads out and finds their own rhythm as the tracks click along beneath the wheels. Ponds, a beaver dam, bridges, and real-life railroad crossings where YOU’RE THE TRAIN fly by. The ride rolls on past backyard goats and fields of horses, and an awesome accumulation of very vintage Ford pickups on somebody’s property.
Then the rails head into a bigleaf maple forest, and a creek appears, all green pools and steep stone chasms. This is not Vance creek – it’s Goldsborough Creek. This is where I want to stop the train and get off and explore, which would be very bad form, and direct violation of the only real rule guide Josh gave us during the safety briefing: Stay in your car.
The pedal out to the turn-around point is effortless. And when we start pumping on the way back the reason why becomes clear. It was all downhill on the way out. Going back is a different matter entirely. Suddenly the ride is work, as I use my hands to push my thighs and breath “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Rose and I have a quick conversation about conserving energy, because that last hill before the parking lot, the one that was so fun to fly down, is surely going to kill us.
Then we hear something sputtering behind us, like a lawnmower. Then a tiny bumping noise followed by a tired ‘woo hoo’. It happens again, puttputtputt, bump, woo-hoo. It’s getting closer. And closer. Then we feel the car behind us bump gently into ours, then a small push, so we don’t have to pedal so hard. Wooo. Hooo. Suddenly pure joy washes over us, and we can’t wait to see the reaction when the folks in front of us receive their assist.
Vance Creek Railriders has a 20-horsepower engine on the lead car – which becomes the end car after the turn around. And that car performs the miraculous work of pushing your tuckered-out butt over the tracks on that slight uphill grade on the way back. A couple of cars make it back under their own steam – they have people in all four of the seats and more pedal power. But most of us join up and became a real train on the way back, laughing as the assist car helps us along and passing log truck drivers honk their horns and wave.
At the end of the line Josh warns ‘When you stand up you’re gonna feel like you just got up from your barstool at closing time’ and he’s right. We stagger, stretch and smile and feel like we did something today. And on my way back to my car I notice the name on the back bumper of the motorized car Josh used to help us on that last stretch: ‘I Think I Can’.